Last weekend, the Word Vancouver Reading and Writing Festival hit the streets for an unbelievable twentieth time. In the Writing Workshop track, I attended Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White’s presentation on self publishing. They’re the team behind Page Two, a new kind of publishing agency that helps authors get their work out there, either through self publishing, agented/traditional publishers or via new channels–whatever fits the client best. Among other things, they shared their process for developing a book concept.
Lots of authors skip this step and dive straight into the writing—which I’m all for if you’re seriously inspired and riding the wave of an idea. (Basically, if something’s keeping you up at night, you better just start.) At some point, though, you’ll have to pause and think about how you’re going to market your book. The sooner you can nail down and defend your book concept like a pro, the better.
This isn’t an exercise just for non-fiction writers either. In his genre writing workshops, David Farland teaches that professional writers should be looking at their market like a business, understanding what’s selling and why.
When you put yourself in your readers’ shoes, you have a better shot at exceeding their expectations.
Here are Jesse and Trena’s nine tips for developing and positioning a rock solid book concept:
1. Think like an acquisitions editor. Um, what’s an acquisitions editor? She’s the person who champions of your manuscript at a publishing house, pitching it to the publisher, the sales and marketing team, and the bean counters. The acquisitions editor is your cheerleader. If you can’t win over this person, your book goes nowhere.
2. Think about your audience. Who cares about this book? What’s the value? Get specific in your answers. If you say something like: My book is for anyone who wants to feel better about themselves then you should be sharpening your pencil. Instead, try: My book is for people new to exercise and healthy living.
3. Think about sales. How have other books in your category sold? Look at Amazon sales ranking and best seller lists to get a feel for what’s doing well right now.
TIP: Robert Mackwood of Brilliant Idea Books makes his business book clients head out to the bookstore and find titles on the shelves similar to their own. Is there even a spot in a bookstore shelf where your book would go? If your book is so out there that people would have a hard time categorizing it, maybe you have a book concept problem.
4. Think about timeliness. Why does your book needs to be published NOW? Is your book connected to an event like an election or topical news item?
5. Describe why you are the authority to write this book. Do you have special credentials, life experience, or a relevant social media following?
6. How original is your story? You’ve probably heard people say that there’s no such thing as a new idea. If that’s true, then what new perspective do you bring?
7. Consider the competition. What do the other books in your category look like? This is the tried and true competitive analysis. Make a list of similar books, then try to understand how your book is different or complementary. Look for gaps in the market, or find sub-niches in your category.
8. Is there enough material for a book or is it more of a premise? Sometimes a book idea is just that, an idea, with no conflict, controversy, or data that adds anything new to the story.
9. Is the idea marketable? One way to know is if you have a platform or audience for your work that you can market to, in the form of a newsletter list, social media following, clients, and so on. If you don’t have a platform, can you build one?
Evaluating your book concept means asking some tough questions. Even harder is giving honest answers. For the best shot at publishing success, Jesse and Trena recommend spending the time up front “thinking like a publisher”. It’s great advice! If you’re in the Vancouver area and want more of it, Page Two is offering a full one-day workshop on self publishing. Details here.
PS: I don’t think there’s anything harder than evaluating your own work objectively, so if you have any more tips on nailing a book concept, I’d love to hear them!